This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23, 2013, and ending on Feb. 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013.
Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the AL East, worked across to the NL counterpart, and now, tackle the Central divisions in alphabetical order. Next up, the Cincinnati Reds.
2012 finish: 97-65 (1st place, NL Central—lost NLDS 3-2 to San Francisco Giants)
LHP Manny Parra, RHP Armando Galarraga, OF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Cesar Izturis, 3B Jack Hannahan, 3B Jason Donald, C Miguel Olivo
LHP Bill Bray, RHP Ryan Madson, OF Drew Stubbs, SS Didi Gregorius, SS Wilson Valdez, 3B Scott Rolen, 3B Miguel Cairo, C Dioneer Navarro
Why they will improve this year
The Reds are returning a very good team—a team I expected to represent the National League in the World Series before 2012. Losing in the playoffs had to sting, especially after losing three straight elimination games to the Giants in doing so.
But the starting rotation is still intact, the bullpen is mostly there and they upgraded in centerfield with the bat of Choo. You have to like another year of potential growth from catcher Ryan Hanigan, shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Todd Frazier to add to an order that already boasts Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick.
Cincinnati's 2013 squad is going to score a lot of runs, and moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation will likely help spell any shortcomings with the already-good pitching staff. Long story short, the Reds won 97 games last year with a less-talented team (and while losing Votto to a long DL stint).
In 2013, the Reds will try to at least keep pace with last year's second-best pitching staff (including a top-ranked bullpen by ERA). The real improvement should come on offense with the acquisition of Choo, a healthy year from Votto and progression from the aforementioned young players.
Why they will regress this year
For one thing, they took one of the game's best closers out of that role and are forcing him into a rotation spot for the sheer potential of his left arm. I get that the reward is high, but why mess with a bullpen that ranked first in the National League last year by a large margin?
While Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos are pretty sure bets atop the rotation (though I personally find Latos to be overrated in general), are we really going to see such a great season out of Bronson Arroyo again? Will Homer Bailey pitch as well as he did down the stretch last year?
And what about the new closer, Jonathan Broxton? As a Dodger fan, I'll be the first to remind everyone how fragile the big boy becomes once he blows a save or two. If he falls into that trap again, the Reds' investment in him will turn out to look awfully bad, and Chapman will have to revert to the closer's role anyway.
The offense is great, but will the young guys really continue to progress? We've seen sophomore slumps before, and Frazier, Cozart and Hanigan are definitely not immune to it. The Reds, as a team, struck out fifth-most in 2012. Regardless of the big bats, that's going to have to change to maintain excellence throughout the 2013 season and secure another division title.
The outlook for 2013
Who am I kidding? This team is absolutely stacked. I have no worries about the starting lineup, which will get a major boost from both Votto and Choo. I like the three youngsters games, as well, and don't foresee much of a drop-off if any of them do regress.
The rest of the regulars are rock solid and good for consistent numbers. Bruce and Ludwick will provide the power, Phillips will drive in runs and get on base, and Choo has been one of the better, underrated hitters in the AL for a while now.
I like the rotation, but do have my concerns about the back end of it. As intriguing as Chapman is as a starter, it's a whole different beast closing a game out in the ninth as opposed to pitching six or seven innings. Plus, it could put strain on that golden left arm.
All in all, I think the Reds are heading for a very similar season in 2013. It's the opinion of this writer that the Reds do repeat as division champs, without a huge jump or dive in their win total from last year. The question that remains to be answered is: Have they done enough to get over that hump and move on to the World Series?
Potential changes before Opening Day
Aside from the desire to bring Scott Rolen back into the fold, Reds GM Walt Jocketty is mostly mum on any proceedings taking place before the season starts. At this point, it seems the Reds have a pretty set roster—and a scary one at that.
If the Reds are going to make any moves, they could try to add one more bullpen arm to complement the recent addition of Parra. It never hurts to have more bullpen depth, and late-inning relief could be lacking with Chapman moving to the rotation.
Biggest surprise: Ryan Hanigan
Biggest disappointment: Aroldis Chapman
Bold prediction: Billy Hamilton gets 90 appearances this year, steals 30 bases
1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Ryan Ludwick, LF
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Todd Frazier, 3B
7. Ryan Hanigan, C
8. Zack Cozart, SS
1. Johnny Cueto, RHP
2. Mat Latos, RHP
3. Bronson Arroyo, RHP
4. Homer Bailey, RHP
5. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
Projected finish: 97-65, 1st place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.